Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Lawyers, guns and money

     Disregard the trail of blood they've wrought, the cumulative protection falsely assigned them. Say this much about guns: At least they allow certain folks to get specific about "freedom."

      Surely I'm not the only one who's noticed. Those who get most melodic about "freedom" trail off into mumbles on lyrics they've never really taken to heart, and that's most of the stanzas.

      Fourth Amendment? Ditch it on a hunch. First Amendment? This is a Christian nation. Don't read that "establishment" stuff too literally.

      "Liberty" clause? A plaything of permissive judges. Right of privacy? A left-wing invention.

       Ah, but the Second Amendment? Guns? Now we're talking freedom. Suddenly we have a bunch of William Wallaces — each a Mel Gibson in skins. Freedom!

       This is mostly theatrics. And, like American cinema, it's mostly box office-driven. Here's the truth: The gun rights that are at the cusp of judicial dialogue are more a manifestation of market forces than any founders' wishes.

       A large body of what the forefathers would consider "arms" are off limits to anyone but the military (um, militia) and the police, with little debate.

      That brings us to "arms" at arm's length, particularly those easily bought, easily concealed, with virtually no range, no hunting function, the lifeblood of gangs, carjackers, drug runners. The question isn't, "Why would anyone seek to regulate them?" It's, "How could any policymaker just look the other way?"

      Here's how: market forces. Or, more appropriately, the "ka-ching" as each of these deadly little ingots passes from maker to merchant to the street.

      The gun lobby is just another industrial special interest, like oil, pharmacy, agriculture, mining, autos. Each will be served. Government will serve it.

      Even with progressive sorts in control these days on Capitol Hill, leaders who will openly challenge the gun lobby grow fewer and fewer. And why should they? What power have reasonable citizens unto themselves, when the opposition is an economic juggernaut — not just an industry itself but one with an industry-fed lobbying titan in the National Rifle Association?

     But here's the thing. Even the NRA believes in gun control. If not, metal detectors would not be arranged at the entrances of gun shows.

     So, too, with state capitols under the sway of lawmakers frantic to license more and more to conceal-carry, and in more and more venues. If they think guns equal safety, why don't they allow just anyone to bring a firearm to their respective offices to exercise his or her, um, constitutional rights of free expression? Mumble. Mumble.

     Just about anyone can begrudge the veritable coin toss that fell in favor of gun rights when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that cities couldn't prohibit law-abiding citizens people from owning handguns. What does the Second Amendment truly say about that? Reasonable jurists can disagree.

      But even in its most sweeping decision ever about gun rights, knocking down cities' ability to ban handguns, the Supreme Court acknowledged government's authority to limit who can sell guns and who can buy them (no felons, no juveniles, no adjudicated mental patients). Government can still dictate where guns can be carried. That's all gun control.

      Chicago followed up the court ruling by imposing the nation's strictest gun law. You can have a gun, as the court orders, but you must register it with police and get training. Gun shops are banned, too.

      Under the law, Chicago will continue to comport itself under the assumption that a heavily armed population isn't safer than the alternative.

      An assault on freedom? Hardly, if the quest is freedom from gun violence.

      The NRA says that people who can't take their firearms for a stroll are less safe than the alternative. Something about that trail of blood, however, keeps presenting itself — a trail gleaming red not because of freedom but because, let's face it, in this country commerce trumps all other pursuits.

      Former Texas newspaperman John Young resides in Colorado. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com

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